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Latest News on Franco Saxon

(October 17)

Jonny Cox was "more than happy" with Franco Saxon's run for third at the Motukarara Trials earlier this afternoon.

Drawn the widest of six runners in his 2200m mobile event, Sax was asked by Jonny to go back at the start and sit last - which he did so without hassle. Jonny says a couple of their rivals started to tire nearing the 800m point, so he came out and around them and then just let our boy run home under his own steam after that.

"The first three got away on us a bit, but in the end we were probably only four or five lengths from the winner - he made up a lot of ground on them from the half and even passed one," Jonny said.

"They went about 2:50 overall, and I timed him to run his last 800 in about 57.8; that's a pretty good run around Mot.

"And I was really happy with him too, because he was on the job but still controllable.

"At times in the past when he's been a bit fresh going into a trial, he's sort of wanted to charge the gate. But today he was good, not silly or an idiot at all."
 
Sax had a good blow afterwards too, as anticipated.

"It was the sort of run he needed," Jonny continued.

"He was also the last of the three that I had in today too though - and by the time I'd washed him down, scraped off the excess water and loaded him onto the float with the others, he'd already recovered.
 
"Hopefully he'll lose a bit of condition from the outing, and we'll go again next week."
 
The plan is to take Sax to Rangiora on Wednesday (October 25), and Jonny says he might even give him another trial after that before going back to the races - all of which will be decided after his next run.
 
"I think today proved that he still wants to be out there and doing it," our trainer/driver said.
 
"With what he's been through lately, no-one could begrudge him being a bit sour on things - but he's not, by any means.

"So, hopefully he's back.

"What I want is for him to be competitive again... this Syndicate's only got another seven or eight months left, so my goal is to get him to finish that time off with some consistency in his racing."
 
 
(October 16)
 
Franco Saxon is finally going to get the chance to have an outing away from home tomorrow.

He's heading off to the Motukarara Trials, where he'll line up in a 2200m mobile which is scheduled to start at 12:15pm.

Jonny Cox has chosen tomorrow's venue in preference to Ashburton (or Rangiora on Wednesday) because it's an official Trial Meeting as opposed to just workouts; they don't hold qualifying trials at the latter, and Jonny's also training a filly called Burnindownthehouse that he's hoping to qualify.

So it made sense to take her, Sax and their stablemate It's All Over Now to the same course on the same day rather than split them up across the week.
 
Mindful that you can only do so much with a horse at home, Jonny says it's a shame Sax missed a run last week due to the cancellations because he would've been that little bit more forward heading into tomorrow.

"He's still a bit fat," Jonny said.

"But he looks great, so I'm happy enough with him in that respect.

"He's just going to take a couple of outings to get back into racing trim, that's all."
 
I can't make it out to Motukarara tomorrow, but I'll be sure to let you know Jonny's thoughts about Sax's performance as soon as I hear from him afterwards.
 
 
(October 10)
 
Spring huh? Yeah right!

Sounds like the script from a Tui beer commercial, doesn't it. Nevertheless, Canterbury's weather has certainly played a leading role in the careers of locally-trained horses this week.

I can't recall many cancellations of October trial meetings over the years - but for the second time in the space of three days, officials have had to pull the plug yet again.
 
On Monday it was Addington, and today it's Rangiora, meaning that Franco Saxon won't be making a public appearance this afternoon as expected.
 
Jonny Cox says Sax will either line up at the Ashburton Workouts next Tuesday (Oct 17) or at Rangiora 24 hours later, and as soon as it's been confirmed I'll let you all know.
 
Our boy is well and, like the rest of us up and down the country, probably a bit peeved off with Mother Nature just at the moment.
 
Someone should send her a calendar to remind her what month it is.
 
 
(October 5)
 
Jonny Cox knows he's winning the battle with Franco Saxon because he can see it. Literally.

In addition to Sax being noticeably happier about life in general, Jonny says our boy has also packed on a few kilos lately - in fact, he's put Sax on a diet and stepped up his training regime to get him back to racing trim again.
 
"Yeah he's a little bit fat to be honest - he's done pretty well," Jonny said this afternoon.
 
"I'm not panicking about it though; I'd rather him be like that than have to try and put weight on him, because at least we've got something to work with.
 
"It's a sign that he's obviously healthy and isn't feeling as much pain any more."
 
Sax got given his second IRAP injection on Monday - this was supposed to happen last Thursday, but vets get even busier in Spring time with mares needing to be served and newborns popping up all over the place, and unfortunately Sam (Taylor) didn't have the chance to visit Sax again until earlier this week.
 
No biggie though; Jonny's been keeping Sax ticking over at home while he's been undergoing his IRAP treament, and he'll take the first steps towards a racetrack return by lining up at the Addington Trials next Monday (October 9).
 
"He'll need the hitout, so I'll just follow them around and let him run home at the finish.

"His work's been good though, he's done all I've asked him to in training.
 
"He's just a bit big and burly at the moment, that's all. He's a lot rounder than normal, and probably carrying more weight than he ever has.

"So he'll need a couple of trials or workouts to get back to race condition, but it won't take long; we'll know more after Monday," Jonny said.
 
 
(September 20)
 
Franco Saxon has started to turn the corner.

I spoke to Jonny Cox this morning, and he reports that Sax has been "a different horse" since treatment on his sore knee began.

Given a cortisone injection just to numb any pain when vet Sam Taylor first visited a couple of Fridays ago, Sax had his first course of IRAP Therapy last week and is being administered a second vial tomorrow - the initial double dose being the recommended method of 'kick starting' the healing process.
 
"He seems a lot happier," Jonny said.

"And he even looks better, his coat's getting its shine back. It's a bit like humans I suppose - when the pain goes away, you start to feel a whole lot better about life in general.

"So whatever we're doing is definitely working; I jogged him on the lead yesterday and he was pretty full of himself again."
 
From here the plan is "a decent canter" on Saturday and then Jonny will start to turn up the wick from next week onwards. Sax won't have lost a heck of a lot of fitness during his current limbo period, but our trainer still intends to line him up at the trials or workouts somewhere first before we go back to the races.

At a pinch, we're talking a resumption sometime early in October.
 
The other breaking news over the last few days of course has been the announcement that Jonny's entering into a training partnership with Tim Butt, which comes into effect from December 1.
 
It'll see Jonny give up his morning shifts at Mark Purdon's and Natalie Rasmussen's All Star Stables, and Sax and the rest of Jonny's seven or eight horses will eventually move from their current lodgings at Yaldy Farm to Tim's stables in Newtons Road, the same property where Spreydon Lodge also runs their operation from.

"The news broke pretty quick, but the decision wasn't made without Kim and I spending more than a month thinking about it and going backwards and forwards with all sorts of questions," Jonny says.
 
"At the end of the day it's too good an opportunity to turn down, plus it's going to be nothing but positive for me and my race team - I wouldn't be doing it otherwise."

No disrespect to where he's training from at the moment, but Jonny will have improved (and more) facilities at his fingertips once he makes the move.
 
"There's better boxes and paddocks, more room overall, but the tracks are the biggest thing... there's a jog track and a fast-work track on the property, and they've got a lot more sand on them so it'll mean less jarring on Sax's knee.

"And they're putting in a water-walker too, which will be ideal for a horse like him.
 
"My horses will still get the best of treatment, and probably even more 'TLC' than before because there'll be me, Kim and a couple of other staff in the mornings."
 
I can vouch for that too, because you've only got to see the way Kim acts around (and towards) Sax on racenight to know that she loves our boy to bits!
 
The other advantage of Jonny relinquishing his employment at All Stars Stables is the fact that Sax (and the rest of his soon-to-be-combined team) will get worked in the mornings, rather than in the afternoon like he is at the moment.
 
With the warmer weather approaching, it'll be much nicer for the horses to be all 'done and dusted' before lunchtime instead of being put through their regimes when temperatures are at their fiercest.
 
 
(September 12)
 
Franco Saxon is about to start treatment for an arthritic-type condition in his left knee.
 
I apologise that you've been left wondering what's happening with Sax after my last email was 10 days ago, but Jonny Cox's vet Dr Sam Taylor (of the Rangiora Vet Centre) didn't have an opportunity to examine our horse until last Friday - and there's been plenty of discussions between them, Noel and I in the interim as we decided upon the best way to tackle Sax's complaint.
 
The need to give Sax a thorough 'going over' came about after a lacklustre performance from him at Addington on September 1, when Jonny said that even in their prelim that night our boy felt "lethargic, and not interested".
 
X-rays have revealed that he's got a small amount of tiny micro-fractures in his knee, which is akin to arthritis; undetectable in the pre-purchase Vet Check we carried out in 2016, it's the sort of condition which horses are prone to developing as they get older - and Sax even moreso in a way, because the way his 'action' is he hits the ground pretty hard with his front feet.
 
It's not all doom and gloom though, and as soon as possible this week Sax will undergo a course of IRAP Therapy.

"Horses are notorious for having a poor blood supply in and around their joints and bones," Sam explained.
 
"And when this sort of thing happens, the bones in the knee harden and become more calcified."

IRAP Therapy involves extracting blood from a horse, treating it so that the plasma's healing qualities are concentrated and multiplied by about a thousand, and then re-injecting it back into the afflicted area.

As opposed to cortisone injections which only numb the pain and mask the problem, IRAP assits a horse's own immune system to go to work from the inside out.
 
"IRAP is kind of like a cheaper version of stemcell treatment, which will be a thing of the future but is way too expensive at this stage, and it helps cartilage regrow around the area," Sam added.
 
Sax doesn't have to take time off while he's treated either. He spent most of last week in the paddock while Jonny waited for the vet to visit, but he'll resume jogging as soon as he's started his treatment and then Jonny will step things up a notch next week.

The plan is to give Sax a trial or workout somewhere the following week, just to get a line on where he's at, and then he can go back to the races.
 
In lieu of these developments, Jonny is going to alter Sax's training programme from here on in as well. There's a pool located at Yaldy Farm where he trains from, so once the temperatures start to warm up he'll gradually increase Sax's time in the water at the same rate as he gives him less and less trackwork.
 
Swimming is a tremendous cardio workout for horses, and puts virtually no pressure whatsoever on their joints. Ideally, Sax won't need to go near a track between races.
 
Ironically, the discovery of Sax's condition in his knee goes a long way towards explaining something which has bugged both Jonny and I for most of this year.
 
Sax has predominantly gone great fresh-up but then seemed to 'plateau' afterwards, totally bucking the trend of horses almost always improving with each additional run of a campaign.
 
So in a way it sort of makes sense why he didn't - because he was probably experiencing an increase in discomfort as each raceday came and went. We're going to try and turn all that around now though.
 
Another advantage of IRAP is that the procedure produces half a dozen vials of 'reinforced' blood - so we'll be able to inject his knee every month or so, or whenever Jonny senses that the problem's starting to niggle away at Sax again.
 
Personally I'm very impressed with Sam's attitude towards our horse too; vet work isn't just a job for him, it's a passion and he's totally dedicated to the challenge that lies ahead.
 
"Yeah I'm quite excited about giving Franco Saxon the treatment, and I'd like to think we'll see an improvement in his form as a result," Sam said.


(September 2)
 
Poor ol' Franco Saxon just can't seem to catch a break lately, because for the second time in as many starts this campaign he was left parked a long way from home again at Addington last night.
 
Due to circumstances which are no driver's fault, this horrible 'p' word has made regular appearances amongst the descriptions of Sax's runs throughout his 24-start career to date.

And more often than not, it puts paid to any horse's chances of running in the money - no matter who you are. There's a reason why commentators call it the "death seat".
 
Granted, Sax sat parked yet still won on debut but you can get away with it in the maiden grades; once you're up against horses of equal ability, the sort of trip you receive makes all the difference.
 
For a while there last night it looked like our boy was actually going to land a sweet ride in the one-one for a change, because after being caught wide early he and Jonny Cox mooched forward to be outside the leader and they'd been followed around in every step by Nigel McGrath on My Wee Man.
 
Sax crossed down to parked, My Wee Man went ahead of him to give him cover, but then Matt Anderson driving the favourite Alta Shelby in front decided to surrender the lead. This left us in the dreaded position once again, and with My Wee Man having been the last carriage on the three-wide train there was no help in sight.
 
Like most of us, I clung onto a glimmer of hope that Sax could still run a place, as he'd finished fourth after sitting parked eight days earlier and would've improved with that outing under his belt.
 
Soon after swinging for home though, it was obvious our boy wasn't going to fight out the finish so Jonny just let him coast home under his own steam.

"Nah, not that happy with him to be honest," our trainer/driver said as he and Sax returned to the stabling area. 
 
"He was pretty scratchy in the warm-up before the race, and even then I could sense that something wasn't quite right with him.

"It might be his feet again, so he won't be going to Forbury and I'll get them checked out this week."
 
What Jonny meant is that he suspects Sax could be suffering from corns again, like he has on a couple of occasions in the past.

You cut the little blighters out, give the hoof a chance to grow back again and then throw another set of shoes on a horse once their feet are back to normal - but corns can come back without warning too, and because the affected area is covered (by the shoe) and out of sight it's almost impossible to know they're there until your horse starts to show some discomfort.
 
The change in demeanour can virtually happen overnight as well - one day your horse will be as happy as Larry, and then 24 hours later they've got something niggling away at them at the end of their legs. Heck, things would be a whole lot easier if horses could talk!
 
Jonny will get his farrier to look at Sax as soon as possible, and I'll let you all know what we find.


(August 30)
 
Don't be confused about the indication that Franco Saxon is about to have a couple of starts in the space of as many days.

He's definitely lining up in race 10 at Addington this Friday night, and his inclusion in the fields for Forbury on Sunday is only to give trainer Jonny Cox a 'back up plan' just in case anything untoward happens 48 hours earlier.
 
Jonny and his girlfriend Kim Butt have been holidaying in Australia all week, having left the day after Sax's resumption last Thursday to take in all the action of Breeders Crown Day and then staying on to spend a bit of time with Kim's father Anthony.
 
They fly back into New Zealand tomorrow night, well in time for Jonny to reunite with Sax for his race the following day.
 
The man who was left with the responsibility of overseeing Sax's training regime for a few days during Jonny's absence is his good mate Jesse Alford, a guy I know well myself and can speak very highly of.

Although he's no relation to Victorian trainer/driver Chris Alford whose name is synonymous with the industry across the Tasman, Jesse has been involved in harness racing for most of his life. Having done stints in various stables including Peter Robertson's, Jesse has been on the employee list at Jonny's for most of 2017 and as a result he knows Sax pretty well.

He's also a budding junior driver who was recently granted a licence to drive at the trials. It goes without saying that he knows his stuff, so Sax has been in good hands while the boss has been away on a brief break.
 
"Yeah Jesse's good," Jonny agreed.
 
"I left him with a work list for the half a dozen horses I've got at home at the moment, and he's the sort of guy who would've followed it exactly.
 
"He can judge pace and knows how to carry a watch, so the horses will have been worked as fast or as slow as I wanted them to be."
 
Jonny's kept in regular contact with his right-hand man while he's been overseas, and when I caught up with him this afternoon he reported that our pacer is in fine fettle.
 
"Sax came through his run last week really well, and Jesse says he's fair bouncing around the paddock.
 
"He would've taken some natural improvement out of the race, and having drawn three this week it does give us a better starting position to work with.
 
"I don't quite know if the lead will be there for him, because the horse drawn one (Gunpowder) likes to race on the pace, but at least we might be able to get handy without using as much petrol early - and leave something in the tank for the last 400 metres."
 
For those of you who are intending to be there to cheer Sax on this week, I'll look forward to catching up with you in and around Spectator's.
 
 
(August 25)
 
Franco Saxon put in a great run to finish fourth at Addington last night.

Punching through from his second-line draw at the start, Sax ended up four-back on the outer before Jonny Cox asked him to move up outside the leader with a lap to travel.

Our boy settled well in the position and then started to challenge the leader (and eventual winner) turning for home; looking like he was going secure third in the run to the line, Sax just came to the end of it 100 metres out but fought gamely to hold fourth all the same.

I applauded Jonny for seizing the initiative when he did, because it was a slow pace being set and hence the quickest part of the event was the last quarter... completed in 27.6, nothing from further back could take any ground off the front runners - if Jonny had stayed where he was a lap out, Sax's earnings wouldn't have been boosted by $450.

This was highlighted by the fact that the first four horses at the head of the field on the home bend ran first, second, third and fourth.
 
Sax was in good nick after the race, his first for nearly two months, and has come through it in grand fashion today. Jonny was happy with his effort as well, and says he'll naturally improve with the outing under his belt.
 
There's a couple of races to choose from at Addington a week tonight (September 1), and our trainer/driver says that where he intends to line up Sax next.
 
 
(August 22)
 
Fitness-wise, Franco Saxon is right where Jonny Cox wants him in the lead-up to his resumption at Addington this Thursday night.

Jonny was glad he opted to bypass going anywhere with Sax this week, because our boy didn't need another trial or workout at the same tempo as what they run on racenight (like he encountered at Ashburton a fortnight ago) - especially when you're building towards kicking off another campaign.

In saying that, our trainer/driver did give Sax a decent hitout at home over the weekend and has just kept him ticking over nicely ever since.

"He came through his Ashburton workout well and I'm pretty happy with where he's at," Jonny said last night.
 
"He's got a tricky marble and there's a few nice ones in his race on Thursday, but that's typical because of the sort of grade he's in.

"The one drawn outside us (Alta Shelby) is being touted as a Derby horse too, so we might be hard-pressed beating it.
 
"It's Sax's first run back though, so I'll be happy if he runs top four."
 
It'll be great just to have Sax back at the races again, and regardless of what he does on Thursday I know he'll improve with the outing.

For those of you who are also intending to be there, I'll look forward to seeing you in Spectator's.
 
 
(August 8)
 
Contrary to what it might've looked like from the sidelines when you finish second-last, Jonny Cox was more than happy with Franco Saxon's run at the Ashburton Workouts earlier this afternoon.
 
Venturing off the place for the first time since he raced at Forbury Park on June 29, Sax was a bit keen once the mobile gate sped away and Jonny was pretty much just a passenger as our boy pushed forward.

Jonny then thought about taking the lead in the 2400m Heat as a result, as he could've slowed the tempo to suit himself and Sax, but even those plans went out the window when the front-runner (Angel Of Harlem) continued to pull fiercely - despite the efforts of its driver Jimmy Curtin to restrain it for a trial.

So, mindful of the fact that Sax had been left parked on a hot speed for the entire event, our trainer/driver just hung onto him in the home straight and let others go past.

Sax finished seventh of the eight contestants, but Jonny still privately timed him to run home in a tick over 56 and 27 for his last 800m and 400m - more than enough of a hitout for Sax in what was his first run back.

"They went 2:58.2 for the trip," Jonny said in almost disbelief, knowing that actual races are run in slower time and this was just a workout.

"Sax blew a bit afterwards which was to be expected, but he also recovered quickly too."
 
The latter signifies that our pacer was pretty forward for his resumption today, and for that reason Jonny has decided to bypass the intention of another trial and just go straight to the races instead.

"There's a 1950m mobile event for him at Addington on August 24 which might be ideal for him in a fresh state.

"He trialled pretty well at Rangiora prior to heading down to Forbury and running second first-up last campaign, so I thought we may as well try him with just the one trial heading in this time.

"That way, I can just step up his programme a bit more next week to get him ready for it - without having to take him off the place again."
 
 
(August 1)
 
Franco Saxon is off to the trials at Ashburton next Tuesday (August 8).

"He's full of himself and pretty well," trainer Jonny Cox said yesterday, confirming that Sax's latest wee break has done him the world of good.

Jonny had originally planned on lining our boy up somewhere this week, but the recent inclement weather in Christchurch has delayed those intentions by a couple of days.
 
"I just haven't been able to get the work into him," Jonny said, adding that even horses in NZ's top stable (Mark Purdon's) have had to bow to the Weather Gods during July and missed work as a result.
 
"I could've gone somewhere with Sax this week, but I just wanted him to be a little bit more 'forward' before I took him off the place again.

"And I'd say he'll have a couple of trials too... the first run will be a quiet one and then we'll go again the following week to give him a more serious hitout.
 
"A freshen-up like this has worked for him before, so there's no reason why it shouldn't again."
 
 
(July 19)
 
Franco Saxon is into his second week of work as he builds towards a racetrack return.

Jonny Cox says Sax was a bit light in condition after he brought him home from his campaign at Forbury Park, but that was to be expected after our boy made three starts in the space of a fortnight and two of them were hard runs parked.
 
Having had more than a week off since, he's putting the weight back on again now and Jonny reported yesterday that Sax "is getting his belly back".

"The wee break and freshen up has definitely done him the world of good," Jonny said.
 
"I only did about three days with him last week because of the weather, so it was more like 'half a week' (of work) really."
 
Jonny's going to start stepping up Sax's workload again from now, and is planning to give him a trial or workout somewhere in the last few days of July to get a line on where he's 'at'.
 
"It means he won't resume again until early August, but the slight delay is neither here nor there.
 
"I've got no concerns with him moving forward from here."
 
 
(June 30)
 
All things considered, Franco Saxon put in a pretty good performance when he wrapped up his southern campaign with a fifth at Forbury Park last night.
 
Sax got away well to secure the trail behind Wayward Roc, and Jonny Cox and I both thought that horse would stay in front but Dexter Dunn ended up giving the lead away after 400 metres, relegating Sax to a three-deep possie for the remainder of the race.
 
So much for pre-race predictions, huh?
 
Wayward Roc then started to tire after the back straight quarter was run in a quick 28.6, and on the bend he was going backwards and holding Sax up as those in front were getting away.
 
Still, our boy never threw in the towel, picking himself up and running home to finish just inches from fourth.
 
"I was happy with his run," Jonny said today.

"We knew he wasn't a hundred percent going into it, and Kim was happy too.
 
"She said Sax was actually still travelling well when Dex held us up, and it probably cost us any chance of running in the money."
 
Franco Saxon is now back home in familiar territory, with Jonny reporting that he's come through their late night trip back from Dunedin well.
 
Noel and Wendy didn't have a spare paddock at the moment, so Jonny's found Sax one at Fred Morris's Yaldy Farm and that's where he and stablemate It's All Over Now will spend the next 10 days having a freshen up and being "hard fed".
 
"I'm sure he'll enjoy the wee break," Jonny said.

"It shouldn't take long to bring him back up (to racing trim) either, and I think he'll be ready to race again sometime towards the end of July."
 
 
(June 28)
 
Seeing how Franco Saxon lacks a bit of gate speed from behind the mobile, we usually wish for any marble bar 'the ace' if he draws the front line.
 
But he's landed that very barrier position tomorrow night at Forbury Park, and ironically it's ended up being the difference between him lining up and not.
 
Staying in touch with Amber Hoffman during this week, Jonny Cox says the reports from her stable are that Sax just isn't a hundred percent heading into the last start of his southern campaign.
 
"Amber says he's a bit tired and probably feeling the racing," Jonny said earlier this afternoon.
 
"But that's understandable, because he had a quickly-run trial before he went down there and then two hard races (parked) since - both of them where he was just a victim of circumstances.
 
"In all fairness he's had a pretty hectic last couple of months really, because he made four appearances during May too."
 
So I asked Jonny if we should just pull Sax out of tomorrow's meeting; he says he threw exactly the same question at Amber and was happy enough with her answers, so between the three of us we've decided to push on as scheduled.
 
"Sax should still go a nice honest race tomorrow," Jonny said reassuringly.
 
"It's not like he's sulking in the corner or wishing he wasn't out there, it's just that he's not jumping out of his skin as much as he was when he first arrived.
 
"To be honest if he'd have drawn anything but one I probably would've pulled him out, but from there he's likely to get a pretty economical trip in the trail or even three-deep at worst.
 
"And that's because the horse drawn alongside him (Wayward Roc), and Dex, like to lead - so the plan is to do enough to try and hold his spot early, which should result in him not having another hard run.
 
"He's actually gotten a bit quicker at getting out of the gate lately."
 
We all know that in the past, Franco Saxon has occasionally displayed a tendency to over-race when on the fence. Jonny isn't worried about him getting fired up for Kim Butt when she takes the reins again tomorrow night though, believing that with the 'edge' being off Sax he's unlikely to do that this time.
 
"Amber purposefully hasn't done a lot with him during the week," Jonny continued.
 
"And when I spoke to her this morning, she was about to throw a saddle on him and take him for a paddle in the sea - that can actually do wonders heading into a race sometimes."
 
The other hurdle we're faced with tomorrow is that it's the toughest field Franco Saxon has faced on this trip, so even if he gets a cosy run in the trail there'll be plenty of others who are sprinting just as hard as he is at the finish.
 
Regardless of where he finishes, Sax is coming home with Jonny after the races and he'll drop our boy off at Noel and Wendy's for a week to 10 days of well-earned 'R&R'.
 
"He deserves a bit of a 'freshen-up'," Jonny said, "and it's worked before."
 
 
(June 23)
 
Franco Saxon was once again a victim of circumstances at Forbury Park last night.
 
For a moment it looked like our boy was going to get a charmed run, because Kim Butt managed to cleverly get him across from his wide draw and slot straight into the one-one.
 
Things changed complexion dramatically inside the next 100 metres though, because Wayward Roc pushed on to the lead and the other horse in front of Sax in the running line (Tangled Up In Blue) dropped to a possie four-deep the fence, leaving us parked a long way from home for the second time in as many weeks.
 
Wayward Roc got away with very cheap splits in the lead, and I was cursing at the TV screen when all the other drivers chose to sit back and let Matt Anderson set a dawdling pace; one would've thought Sax might have got a bit of cover at some stage - but no, it wasn't to be.
 
To his credit Sax ranged up around the home turn and even hit the front halfway down the straight, but the effort took its toll inside the last 50 metres and he was swamped late to finish sixth.
 
You could look at his performance and feel slightly disheartened, seeing how seven days earlier he was driven exactly the same way and nearly won, but in Sax's defence the overall time and final sectionals played a part.
 
A week ago they went 2:43.9, home in 29.9 and 27.5, whereas last night his race was won in 2:45.2 after closing splits of 32.1 and 26.6. As trainer Jonny Cox has pointed out before, that sort of sit-sprint scenario doesn't really suit our boy's 'grinding' style.
 
And in all fairness, an 'out of the money' finish this time around just emphasises how well Sax actually went last week. Racing's a hard game sometimes, because victories are few and far between and even a great performance doesn't guarantee a reward.
 
Regardless of what grade a horse is in, very few of them can sit parked and still win - especially around Forbury.
 
"I wasn't disappointed with his run," Jonny said this morning, adding that Kim was also happy with how our boy felt and performed.
 
The important thing is that Sax has come through the run in typically grand order, and Jonny says he'll line up again at the same racecourse next Thursday night.
 
It's yet to be confirmed, but Jonny will probably put the lid on his southern campaign after that appearance and bring him home.
 
 
(June 21)
 
In addition to the renewed vigour he displayed last week, Franco Saxon is going to be sporting something else that's different when he lines up at Forbury Park tomorrow night.

He's had a haircut.
 
And while it may seem like the wrong time of year to be taking to our boy with the clippers, now that he's had a shave it'll actually keep Sax warmer in the chilly southern temperatures.
 
"It means they don't stay cold," trainer Jonny Cox explains, referring to how having less fur doesn't allow sweat (or water residue after he's been washed down post-race) to stay trapped just above the surface of a horse's skin.
 
Jonny spoke to our caretaker-trainer Amber Hoffman again yesterday, and all signs point to Sax putting in another spirited effort this week.
 
"She's pretty happy with him," Jonny confirmed.
 
"Amber says Sax just loves bowling up and down the beach... so much so, he actually gets a bit impatient when other horses get taken out of their stalls and worked before he does.
 
"Fitness-wise, he won't be any worse than he was last week."
 
Jonny's making the trip to Forbury, but will have to watch our boy from the sidelines because he's currently serving a suspension for breaching the Rules surrounding the over-use of the whip (inside the last 400 metres of a race).
 
As a result his partner Kim Butt was always going to be driving Sax this week anyway, so it's a bonus that it's a junior drivers' event because it'll be penalty-free if our boy gets to the winning post first.
 
On paper it's a drop in class compared to the field he almost beat last week - but, being the highest-assessed horse (R55) in it, we're automatically given what's considered the worst draw under the preferential system and have to start from the outside of the front line.
 
Hence, if you're considering having a wee wager tomorrow night then tread carefully; Sax is the best horse in the race, but such a tricky marble is the great leveller.
 
"He doesn't have blazing gate speed, so Kim will probably just go back at the start and then head on around them when she feels the time is right.
 
"You know what junior driver races are like though - you can go into them with a million plans and not use one of them; it all depends on what unfolds, and what the other drivers do out there."
 
In my opinion we couldn't have a better junior reinswoman in the sulky for the occasion, so as long as bad luck stays out of Sax's way I reckon he's got a great chance.
 
Go Sax!
 
 
(June 16)
 
Jonny Cox echoed the thoughts of all of us with the two words he used to sum up Franco Saxon's run at Forbury Park last night.

"Heaps better."
 
Jonny kept Sax out of the early rush as horses barrelled forward on either side of them, being momentarily caught three-wide as a result. Getting around to parked, our boy briefly received cover behind Bettor To Be Tricky but then got left in the open again when it rolled onto the lead.

As it turned out, parked was as good as it was going to get for Sax for the rest of the race. But despite the tough trip, Sax mooched up outside the leader 600 metres from home and then kept fighting gamely all the way to the line - only to get bombed in the shadows of the post by a horse who'd sat on his back the whole way.
 
A sub-2:00 mile rate in cold and damp conditions, final sectionals of 57.4 and 27.5, and only a neck standing between him and victory where it counted - Sax is back!
 
"Real pleased," Jonny said last night, as he prepared to start the long journey home.
 
"He didn't pull or anything, he just sat up nicely on the bit until it was time to sprint.
 
"It's a shame that he got left parked, but nothing else came round to give him cover so there's not much we could do about that.
 
"He tried his heart out, and you can't ask for any more than that."
 
I could tell that Jonny got quite a bit of satisfaction out of this latest run by Sax, probably feeling a sense of vindication for sending him south in the first place.
 
Racehorses are just like any athlete... getting them to perform at their best on the big stage isn't only about how fit they are - it's psychological as well. Place a horse where it can be competitive, and they'll knuckle in for the fight almost every time.
 
Yes he could've raced at Addington tonight, but as Jonny said to me - if Sax had sat parked against the sort of horses who line up there, maybe two or three of them would've run past him. That doesn't do a lot for a horse's confidence.
 
We're not saying he's not an Addington horse, it's just that his record at Christchurch's Headquarters isn't flash; apart from his first-up win and a third (when Kim Butt drove him in a junior drivers' race), five other starts there have resulted in a formline of '5789P'.
 
So we might just be staying away from Addington for a while, but that's no biggie because there are plenty of other options in and around Canterbury - and further south, as it proved last night.
 
Plans are in place for Sax to make at least another couple appearances at Forbury during June, on the 22nd and 29th, and then Jonny will reassess things after the latter.

Where he is at the moment, our boy can get form, stakemoney and maybe even an ultimate prize or two; judging by last night's performance, I'll be surprised if he doesn't win one in Dunedin this trip.
 
And he just might return home feeling 10 foot tall and bulletproof, ready for whatever we throw at him next.
 
Checking in briefly with Amber Hoffman this morning, she reports that Sax has come through his race "amazing - ate up everything last night and was hooning around the paddock today".
 
The only thing which tainted Sax's second was Jonny copping a suspension for a breach of Rule 869(2)(a): using the whip more than 10 times within the last 400 metres of a race.
 
It means we may have to put another driver on Sax for one or both of his upcoming appearances, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
 
For now, let's just bask in the warmth of our boy being back in form.
 
 
(June 14)
 
There are plenty of positives to talk about with Franco Saxon heading into tomorrow night's race at Forbury Park.
 
For starters he's been dealt a marble which doesn't have a '1' in front of it - at last!

This gives Jonny Cox a lot more options with our boy, although his suggestion in last week's post-Rangiora trial email about using similar front-running tactics might not actually be available anymore.

"Bettor To Be Tricky (drawn two) generally likes to lead as well so we'll just have to see how things pan out early," Jonny said yesterday.
 
Talking of Bettor To Be Tricky, he's the horse that Sax beat in his trial a week ago... Sax led, Bettor To Be Tricky trailed, and the latter couldn't get past our fella up the passing lane.
 
If you haven't seen a replay of the trial, here's a link to it:

http://harness.hrnz.co.nz/gws/ws/r/infohorsews/wsd06x?Arg=hrnzg-Ptype&Arg=RaceVideo&Arg=hrnzg-RacehdrID&Arg=243395
 
I really like how easily Sax won this hitout, emphasised by the fact that Jonny never moved on him; whereas by comparison, Bettor To Be Tricky's pilot Nathan Purdon was a little bit more 'animated' near the finish.
 
Raceday is a different kettle of fish of course, but Jonny never pulled our boy's earplugs so there was obviously a bit more in the tank if he'd have wanted to use it.

Sax would've 'come on' since the run, plus he's had a psychological re-boot in the interim too; as Jonny alluded to, it's going to be very interesting to see what unfolds in tomorrow night's event.
 
The second piece of good news is Franco Saxon's state of health and mind.

He handled last week's trip south to Amber Hoffman's stable without a hiccup, and has settled in brilliantly to his temporary new surroundings.

I checked in briefly with Amber this morning, and she was delighted to report that Sax is "really well".
 
 
(June 8)
 
Franco Saxon put on a much more professional public display when he led practically all the way to win his trial at Rangiora yesterday.
 
As anticipated, Sax didn't barrel out of the gate but got away steadily and safely and Jonny Cox was soon rolling to the lead with our boy.

Pinging along at a good clip, Sax won his 2000m Heat in 2:27.9 (representing a more than creditable mile rate of 1:58.9) and zipped home over his closing sectionals in 57 flat and 28.1.
 
The result will show that he won by a nose, but Jonny confirmed he did it more comfortably than what such a margin would suggest.

"I didn't pull his (ear) plugs or have the stick up either," Jonny said last night.
 
"Yeah, real pleased."
 
One of the purposes of trialling Sax yesterday was the hope that he wouldn't reproduce the same 'fired up' tendencies that he'd shown pre-race at each of his last two raceday outings.
 
Jonny worked our boy a touch harder leading into the trial, and it's fair to say we've made some progress in that department.
 
"He was still a little bit keen, but nowhere near as much as what he was like last start," Jonny said.
 
"It was a little harder to guage though because he had a front-line draw - so you can just put their nose on the gate and they can't go anywhere.

"Whereas at Addington, he was on the second line and I had to really hang onto him so that he didn't climb into the sulky of the horse he was following.
 
"But he was definitely better."
 
Jonny gave Sax a pat goodbye this morning as he was picked up by Majestic/Inter-Island. Our boy will spend the day and night at their Christchurch depot, then heads away in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning before arriving at Amber Hoffman's stables in Waikouaiti around lunchtime.
 
Jonny's heading in the opposite direction today, as he's off to Nelson, but he'll 'check in' with Amber on Saturday to make sure Sax has travelled down safely and then give me a call too.
 
He and I are both confident of Sax putting a lower number into the formline when his southern campaign gets underway at Forbury Park a week tonight (June 15). You'll be hearing from me again before then of course, more than likely twice.
 
If Sax happens to draw a front-line marble next Thursday, Jonny hinted at repeating yesterday's tactics and trying him in front.
 
And, talking of lower numbers... after being handed saddlecloths 13, 10, 10 and 12 for his four starts during May - we're certainly due one of those, too.
 
 
(June 6)
 
As planned, Franco Saxon is having a run at the Rangiora Trials tomorrow.
 
He's drawn six in Heat 6, a mobile 2000m affair which is scheduled to start at 12:15pm, and despite the wide marble our trainer/driver Jonny Cox says he might go forward if the opportunity presents itself.
 
"Sax doesn't have a lot of gate speed, but the lead is normally there if you want it on a trial day so we might try that," Jonny said this evening.

"I just wouldn't mind seeing what he's like bowling along in front, because he hasn't had the chance to do that much on raceday yet."
 
What this signifies is Jonny's intention to give Sax a decent hitout tomorrow, regardless. Our boy has trained on well since his misdemeanor at Addington 10 days ago, and it's time to reinforce that by putting a good run under his belt.
 
"He had four starts last month, and I think our experiment of giving him less training resulted in him being quite 'fired up' on raceday," Jonny continued, citing Sax's gallop in the score-up at Oamaru on May 21 (which caused a false start) and him over-racing at Addington five days later as examples.
 
"So I've put a bit more work into him during this last week, just to take the edge off him - not as much work as he used to get mind you, probably more like halfway between that and what we changed it to."
 
Next on Franco Saxon's plate is a trip down State Highway 1 in a couple of days, the destination being Amber Hoffman's stable at Waikouaiti where he'll spend a couple of weeks on a southern sabbatical.
 
The reasons for the decision are plentiful, and it's hoped that the rewards will be the same.
 
For starters, Jonny's heading away on Thursday to Nelson for driving engagements at their two-day Winter Meeting and doesn't want Sax to have the best part of a week off while he's away, because this would 'undo' all the training that's gone into him lately.
 
So a trip south makes perfect sense, because Amber has looked after Sax for us before and therefor knows him well. Furthermore, apart from the change of scenery our horse will also be able to enjoy numerous racing opportunities 'just down the road' at Forbury Park from mid-June to mid-July.
 
The first of the five upcoming racemeetings is next Thursday (June 15), which Sax is being targeted at. We're not saying he's going to line up every week, but it's a course where he's raced well in the past and the opposition don't tend to be as strong as those he runs into in and around Canterbury.
 
"Amber will do a few different things with him, like riding him along the beach and taking him for dips in the surf.
 
"The horses really love that, and it'll be good for him," Jonny said, adding that he'll keep tabs on Sax's progress from here and then trek south to reunite with our boy on racenight whenever he starts.
 
I can't be out there to watch Sax at Rangiora tomorrow, but as soon as I get a report on how he performed I'll let you all know.
 
 
(May 29)
 
Like a lot of us, Jonny Cox was rather annoyed that Franco Saxon virtually took no part in his race at Addington last Friday night.
 
Jonny says Sax had multiple personalities on the night - being fine in his stall, also good once he got out onto the track and began his warm-up, but then things changed...
 
"As soon as we got into our positions behind the mobile he started pulling like an idiot," Jonny said.
 
"It's like he turned into a completely different horse; he's never pulled that fiercely before."
 
As a result, Jonny had a hell of a job trying to get Sax to relax and steer properly and they momentarily clipped the sulky wheel of Warloch (and driver Nathan Purdon) as the field came down the straight the first time.
 
On the replay you can see Nathan raise his left arm a couple of times in quick succession, moments before Sax rolled into a gallop. Whether or not his elbow came into contact with Sax's nose is open to conjecture - but under the Rules, Nathan was actually well within his rights to 'warn off' any horse who's getting too close to his cart.
 
Sax went into a mad break as we all saw, checking a couple of other rivals in the process, and despite the commentator saying our boy had broken gear this wasn't the case - Jonny brought him to a stand-still because he just wasn't going to stop galloping otherwise.
 
"Under the circumstances it's probably just as well he broke, because if a horse climbs into another one's cart it can be catastrophic," Jonny said philosophically.
 
"Maybe he still had what happened at Oamaru in his head (galloping and causing a false start), I don't know.
 
"But that's the reason why I'm going to take him to the trials before we go back to the races again; hopefully he'll forget about it.
 
"It'll give me the chance to change his bit and try a few things... you can't let a horse pull like he did, because apart from being dangerous it's a total waste of their energy."
 
Sax is therefor going to be on the float headed for the Rangiora Trials next Wednesday (June 7). There's the Nelson meeting a couple of days later, which he wasn't going to target anyway, but Jonny can see him lining up again the following week.
 
"It all depends on how he goes at Rangiora next week, but I don't think he'll need more than one trial before we return to the races.
 
"The Stipes gave Sax a warning the other night, but they're happy with the decision to trial him before we come back again.
 
"Yeah it was disappointing, but hopefully we can just put a line through last Friday and call it a 'one off'."
 
 
(May 25)
 
It's a case of 'no news is good news' with Franco Saxon as he heads into tomorrow night's race at Addington.

I spoke to Jonny Cox earlier this afternoon, and he says our boy has been "the same ol' Sax" during a week where there's been no signs to suggest he won't put in another honest effort.
 
"Yeah he's good," Jonny said.
 
"He had Monday off, then jogged Tuesday and Wednesday and I'm about to give him another jog today.
 
"It's a quicker turnaround between races this time, being five days instead of seven, but what he's done (training-wise) should see him pretty sorted for tomorrow."
 
Sax faces another handy field which is full of in-form horses, but Jonny says that's nothing out of the ordinary.
 
"He's been going good races in this grade.
 
"They only walked and then sprinted home last Sunday, but he kept coming during some quick final sectionals and that was pleasing.
 
"I just hope they don't run home in 27 this week; Sax has shown that he can run home in 27 himself, so if the ones up front are doing that too then it's hard to make any ground on them."
 
So, what we're hoping for tomorrow is a more even pace throughout - not the slow early tempo and sprint home scenario of four days ago.
 
Jonny's going to have to pick his moment to move, too, something which can't be decided until he's out there and able to sum up how the race is unfolding.
 
Yet again we've been dealt a second-line draw, but at least we're not starting from one on the second row like his last two appearances - and, Jonny can actually see some positives about our initial position on the grid.
 
"At least we aren't drawn wide, or buried on the fence, so we've got options.
 
"Plus it's a 1950 metre event this time... these races tend to see the pace being on the whole way, and that would suit him a lot better."
 
For those of you who also intend to be oncourse to cheer on Sax tomorrow, we'll look forward to catching up.
 
 
(May 22)
 
I know I'm beginning to sound like an 'old record', but Franco Saxon was again unlucky in his race at Oamaru yesterday.
 
Our hopes of what might've unfolded went out the window when the #1 was scratched, so instead of following out a 'natural born leader' we got stuck on the fence behind a horse with little gate speed whatsoever.

Situated four-deep for almost the entire event as a result, Jonny Cox finally got the chance to extricate Sax out of his tight spot as the field swung for home. Our boy ran home attractively once in the clear, finishing sixth but missing out on a third-placed divvy by little more than half a length.
 
Considering that the final two quarters of Sax's event yesterday were both run in 27.9, plus the fact that he was giving the leaders the best part of eight lengths as the 800m peg came and went, for him to cut the margin down to less than three lengths at the line was a truly meritorious performance.

"He's gone super really," Jonny said today as he summed up the run.
 
"He's probably gone the fastest last half of the lot of them."
 
Sax had the spotlight on him early when he galloped in the score-up and caused a false start, something which Jonny says wasn't entirely our boy's fault.
 
"Yeah the bugger - he went off his head a bit," Jonny said with a wry smile.

"He had been standing there all day though, because I had a drive in race two and arrived oncourse with him prior to that. So he probably just wanted to get rumbling.
 
"One of his hopple shorteners popped out in the score-up as well, and he's a bit useless when that happens; but he only behaves like that once in a blue moon, so I'm not worried about it."
 
Another factor which could've contributed to Sax's pre-race antics is our recent decision to cut back his training programme slightly, meaning he's more likely to be 'on the fresh side' come raceday.
 
We're already starting to see positive spin-offs from the move though, because yesterday was the first time in a while that he actually backed up one very good run with another.
 
Yes he was unlucky, but no amount of planning or preparation can safeguard you against misfortune in a sport where there's so many variables packed into a couple of minutes on the live stage.
 
Both of Sax's last two starts have been great performances from not-so-great draws, and Jonny is rapt that our pacer looks like he's turning the corner in that respect.
 
"He tried all the way to the line yesterday - just like he did the start before," Jonny said.
 
"It's really good for him (psychologically) to be doing that.
 
"And he took off with a squeal when I let him out into his paddock after we arrived home last night too, so he's taken no harm from the trip."
 
Jonny has nominated Franco Saxon for the meeting at Addington this Friday night, and said he'll take a look at what they're up against before deciding whether to leave him in or not.

There's also Rangiora on Sunday, but the only races for a horse of Sax's class that day are either stands or amateur driver events. Our boy showed yesterday that he's still got a couple of tricks up his sleeve, so for that reason Jonny will give standing starts a miss for the time being - and with all due respect, he doesn't exactly want to be handing the reins to an amateur licenceholder either.
 
Next week the options include Forbury Park on Thursday night and Ashburton's post-Harness Jewels Meeting on the Sunday, with Jonny saying that if Sax didn't race this week he'd probably lean towards the latter because "more Members would have the chance to be there".
 
Wherever he goes next, all we need is a draw - anything but one the second row will be just fine, thanks.
 
 
(May 18)
 
For the second time in as many starts, Franco Saxon has an inside-second-row draw to contend with when he starts at Oamaru this Sunday.
 
Sometimes they can turn into great marbles, sometimes they don't; more than any other draw in a field, you're almost totally reliant on what the horse in front of you does.

Jonny's pre-race hopes went out the window last Sunday when the horse he and Sax followed out (Clive) handed up the lead, but he thinks things could fall in our favour this time.
 
"That horse and driver (Dancing In The Dark and Matt Purvis) are probably even more of a 'leader' than Chris (Thornley) and Clive were," Jonny said this afternoon.
 
"So the trail would be our best outcome, but as we know you can never predict how a race is going to unfold."
 
In our favour is the fact that Oamaru has a longer home straight than Timaru, something which will suit a horse like Sax in the dash for the cash over that last few hundred metres.
 
"He takes a bit of time to wind up," Jonny pointed out, "so hopefully it's a truly run race rather than a sit-sprint."
 
Sax has come through his trip to Timaru in grand order, and our trainer/driver is quietly confident of him going boldly again - as long as he avoids any bad luck.
 
He's up against fellow goHarness representative Order Online of course, whose training and mannerisms heading into Sunday suggest that he can turn his formline around at any tick of the clock.
 
So, bragging rights go on the line again - and wouldn't it be lovely if we received a bit of good fortune for a change and both managed to finish in the money.
 
"He wasn't stressed at all after Timaru; you wouldn't know he'd had a run to be honest," Jonny said, describing Sax's last few days.
 
"Yeah, he's been good. He feels well, and is fit, healthy and happy - pretty much the same as he was leading up to last weekend, which is a good sign.
 
"Hopefully he'll go better again and bring home a bigger cheque."
 
For those of you intending to head to Oamaru, keep a look out for Noel because he'll be the one handling the 'dual syndicate duties' on the day.
 
 
(May 15)
 
Let's not break out the party balloons just yet, but it was heartening to see Franco Saxon charge home late into fifth at Washdyke yesterday.
 
Plus he was unlucky to boot, because after securing the early trail behind Clive (and a driver who likes to stay in front) we went from a plum spot to three-deep and later four-deep and ended up at the mercy of what unfolded ahead of us after that.
 
Sax got absolutely no room whatsoever up the home straight, not until it was all over anyway - and on the replay you can see Sax's head switch inwards and outwards at least four times over the last 200 metres, evidence that Jonny Cox was desperately looking for a gap to steer our boy into and let him rip.
 
And thank goodness our trainer/driver had the skill to act quickly and duck back in behind Clive when the trailing horse (Havinaravup) galloped wildly in the passing lane; running into the back of an uncontrolled equine when you're winding up to full speed could've been catastrophic.
 
"He was a different horse," Jonny says.

"Anything would've been better than his previous run at Addington of course, but after not getting any room right until the last minute he still found the line - that's what I liked the most.
 
"I'm not saying we'd have won it, but with a bit more luck it would've been a different result; he'd have finished a lot closer.
 
"He did no work either so he should've been running on, really - but it was still pleasing to feel him want to do it."
 
I've fielded a couple of comments from Members in the interim, asking about Franco Saxon's corns which were mentioned by Greg O'Connor and/or Mark McNamara in the pre-race buildup yesterday.
 
Jonny and I weren't aware that Sax had any minor issues with his feet, and they only came to light midweek when he was re-shod. Corns are common, and found in the soft tissue part of a horse's hoof near where the shoe meets the heel.
 
Unfortunately they're usually hidden from view as a result, can manifest themselves in a short time, and only get discovered when shoes are taken off or replaced - it's a bit expensive to ask your farrier to pay four or five visits a week and pull the shoes off 'just in case'.
 
"He had them (corns) last year but his feet had been good lately," Jonny said, adding that the issue probably surfaced again due to the ground being wet more often than not lately.
 
Corns are normally about the size of a fingernail. When found, the blacksmith cuts them out and the soft tissue removed grows back and heals relatively quickly.
 
Having corns is akin to us putting a couple of small stones in our shoes and then going for a run - not very pleasant at all. Jonny says that in a way, discovering Sax had a couple of them in his front feet goes a long way to explaining his lacklustre second-up effort at Addington.
 
Stipendiary Stewards even questioned Jonny about Sax's performance that night, and our trainer said he'd advise them if and when he found out anything which might offer a reason why. And Jonny did just that, ringing Nigel McIntyre soon after the corns were discovered midweek.
 
Sax wasn't entered at Addington last Friday night, but he still got a mention in the 'Supplementary' section of that evening's Stipes' Report as a result - and that's where yesterday's Trackside Presenter and On-Course Commentator would've got their information from.
 
In my opinion, which Jonny concurs with, Sax's more positive showing yesterday can be attributed 70% to removing a couple of corns and 30% to his lighter training programme.
 
So we're still going to continue with the lesser workload between races, at least for now anyway.
 
"Straight after his race yesterday, you wouldn't even think he'd been out there," Jonny beamed, highlighting how fit and well Sax is within himself.
 
So well in fact, Jonny's going to head down the Southern Motorway with him again this coming Sunday and line Sax up at Oamaru.
 
 
(May 8)
 
It's time to try something different with Franco Saxon.
 
This has been brought to a head after another ho-hum performance from our boy at Addington last Friday night... sure, he did get held up turning for home, but he still should've been able to finish the race off better than he did.
 
Jonny Cox couldn't have driven Sax more astutely, getting him through from his second-line draw early to settle three back on the outer; moving at a good time to land the parked position with a lap to travel, then taking a trail for the last 800 metres behind Lanikai - a horse he knows, and has driven to win before.
 
Once he was clear soon after straightening for home, Sax should've at least been able to get past the horse followed - not be passed by a couple of the horses behind him.
 
"Just okay to be fair," a frustrated Jonny said as he described Sax's effort.
 
The 'head-scratching' aspect about Franco Saxon is that he bucks a couple of the normal trends which you can safely attribute to racehorses. For starters he's by Live Or Die - and stock by this stallion are tough and usually like to race week after week, then come back looking for more.
 
Secondly, he doesn't seem to improve with a run under his belt off the back of a spell or 'freshen up' - if anything, he performs the same if not a little bit worse.
 
Taking an analytical look at Sax's 16-start career to date, a clear pattern has emerged... the four times that our pacer has won or run a placing (two wins, a second and a third), it's been: on debut; 117 days after his last race; 16 days after his last race, and 45 days after his last race.
 
It's extremely rare for a horse to go so well fresh but then seem to take a backward step next-up. It just doesn't make any sense, and you can understand Jonny admitting that "it does my head in sometimes".
 
He and I had an extensive meeting earlier this evening to thrash out the issue, and I feel for Jonny because he's as committed as he's ever been to the task of getting our horse to show his best on raceday but Sax just isn't 'playing ball' at the moment.
 
Trust me, Jonny gets just as disappointed as the rest of us when Sax puts in a below-par performance at times, probably even moreso - especially when our boy gives him no indication whatsoever at home in training that he's going to go just average. All signs suggest the exact opposite.
 
"I've tried a few different things throughout his career so far," Jonny says.
 
"When his form tapers off, I'll change something and he'll go better - but then he'll go ho-hum again so I'll change something else or freshen him up and he'll come right again for another start or two. 
 
"Apart from the time he ran third at Addington after winning at Forbury, he has never really put two good runs together yet."
 
We're now only a matter of days away from ticking off the Staxofun Syndicate's first year of operation, and hence we're halfway through the 'ride' which is Franco Saxon.
 
Personally I thought that by now we would've registered more wins than the two we've achieved to date, but Jonny and I are both confident there's further victories in store with this pacer so we're going to do our darnedest to get them.
 
"Take his run at Rangiora the other day for example - that sort of effort would win you a lot of races," our trainer/driver said.
 
Jonny and I have decided to try a lesser workload for Franco Saxon over the next couple of weeks, to see if that makes a difference. It's a bit of a 'U-Turn' on the busier training schedule we both thought he needed at the beginning, but if the current methods aren't getting results then you've got to experiment.
 
Our boy is off to Timaru on Sunday, with Jonny feeling that compared to Forbury this Thursday night the daytime meeting and shorter trip south would be more appealing to the majority of Members who might/could attend.
 
Following that, he'll be aimed at the Addington meeting on Friday, May 26.
 
 
(May 4)
 
Jonny Cox is more than happy with Franco Saxon heading into tomorrow night's outing at Addington, reporting that our boy has trained on pleasingly since his meritorious second at Rangiora 11 days ago.

"Yeah he seems pretty well," Jonny said this morning.
 
"He didn't take any ill-effects from his last run and has just been the same as usual since; he's enjoying his work, which is a good sign."
 
Having been dealt saddlecloth 13 it's not going to be easy, because Sax is at the mercy of what happens ahead of him early and we're going have to get around them at some stage. Jonny is hoping for a true tempo in the event, as this will aid our cause.

"It's not the greatest of draws - but it's better than drawing one," he said.
 
"The field's probably a little bit stronger than the one at Rangiora too, but he ran time last start so he proved he can do it."
 
Having taken a cautionary approach and not lined Franco Saxon up at Ashburton last Saturday, a move which I applaud, Jonny gave our pacer the chance to recover naturally from his taxing fresh-up performance.
 
As a result, the anticipated improvement in Sax has been noticeable.
 
"That run has definitely helped him," Jonny confirmed.
 
"He's just as good, if not better, heading into tomorrow. Mind you, he was pretty well leading up to Rangiora anyway; but he hasn't gone backwards, put it that way."
 
"Nope, he's fit 'n healthy and I reckon he's a good eachway chance this week."
 
For those of you who can make it oncourse tomorrow to be part of the cheer squad, I'll look forward to seeing you there.
 
 
(April 26)
 
Franco Saxon's next start has been locked in - and it's not going to be at Ashburton this Saturday.

Jonny Cox rang me this morning with the news that he'd withdrawn Sax from the nominations for this week's meeting, but there's nothing wrong; he just favours not backing our boy up again within a matter of days of pacing his fastest time ever.
 
"Ashburton on Saturday is a stand but they'll still probably go around the 3:00 mark (for 2400 metres)," Jonny said.

"If he'd had two or three starts lately I wouldn't have worried, but last Sunday's run was his first for more than six weeks so I just don't want to risk him having another hard one and it knocking him."
 
Sax will instead line up at Addington on Friday-week (May 5) in another 2600m mobile - and then Jonny won't have any qualms about him starting at the same venue again the following week, for example.
 
Jonny's rapt with how Sax performed three days ago, as I'm sure all of us were, and is also pleased with how our boy came through the torridly-run affair.
 
"I reckon it's the best race of his career so far.
 
"They've gone 3:10, and he was three-wide for the first 800 metres before finding the lead.
 
"I know he had the trail for the last lap, but considering he was on the 'fresh' side he was entitled to battle into fourth or fifth to be honest - but to his credit, when that horse of Johnny Dunn's (Hayden's Meddle) ranged up alongside him he really knuckled down and fought it off.
 
"Sax had Monday off, and then I jogged him yesterday and again this morning... he's really well."
 
 
(April 24)
 
Franco Saxon kept his improving formline heading in the right direction with a sterling effort for second at Rangiora yesterday afternoon.
 
Sax and Jonny Cox got away safely from their widish draw, and then when our trainer/driver discovered there was nowhere to 'slot in' as the rest of the field took up positions he rightfully decided to push forward and go to the top.
 
Sax spent a bit of petrol in doing so, as he was three-wide for most of the opening 800 metres before crossing down to the marker pegs. Trailing the eventual winner after it made a lightning move with a lap to travel, Sax popped out to issue a challenge soon after straightening for home and dug in for the fight.
 
I was really proud of the way our boy stuck to his task, because he closed the gap again on Bettor Vision late in the piece and more importantly he wasn't letting the third horse edge him out of his runner-up prize.
 
"He felt great," Jonny said afterwards.
 
"He's done a bit of work early, and they've gone 3:10 (a mile rate of 1:57.7) for the trip but he never gave it away.
 
"It was his first run in more than six weeks too, so he'll improve with the outing."
 
Jonny has nominated Sax for the Ashburton meeting this Saturday (April 29), and between now and when withdrawals close on Wednesday morning at 10:00am he'll use the time to see how our pacer has come through the run before locking it in.
 
 
(April 18)
 
Just to confirm, Franco Saxon won't be heading anywhere 'off the place' again before resuming at Rangiora on Sunday.

Jonny Cox was toying with the idea of giving Sax "a quiet run in behind them" at the trials or workouts somewhere this week, but when I spoke briefly to him this morning he said it won't be necessary.
 
"He's pretty well and will go to Rangiora fit and healthy," Jonny said.
 
For those of you who are intending to be oncourse this weekend, I'll look forward to seeing you there.
 
Go Sax!
 
 
(April 11)
 
Franco Saxon's appearance at this afternoon's Ashburton Workouts was a winning one!

Jonny Cox rang me on the way home with the encouraging news, saying that the run was just what Sax needed and he was rapt with how our boy felt.

"Yeah it was nothing crazy - just a nice solid hitout," Jonny said.

Sax scored by a length and covered the 2400m standing start event in 3:06, the last sectionals zipping by in 55.7 and 27.7 - times which are not to be sneezed at, all things considered.
 
Jonny was pleased to see the half a dozen or more Syndicate Members who also made the trek to Ashburton this afternoon, all of them walking away feeling well satisfied with Sax's performance.
 
For the benefit of those (like me) who couldn't be there, he gave us a blow by blow description...
 
"He bobbled away again for about three or four strides, proving that he's not quite bombproof from a stand just yet, but then came down pacing pretty quickly and we were in front after about a hundred metres.
 
"Something came around for a look at the mile mark so we took a trail, and then at the 1000m it let another one go and we were three-deep.

"The horse ahead of me wasn't quite keeping up at the 600m, so I came out and around it and into the trail again before pulling Sax out to make our run at the top of the straight.
 
"He breezed on by them pretty easily, then thought he'd done enough and switched off - so I pulled the plugs and gave him a couple of whacks on the bum, just to keep his mind on the job.
 
"He won it pretty comfortably, really."
 
Jonny said Sax had "another good blow" after the workout, but by the time he'd been washed down and was back to his stall again he'd recovered fully; these are the signs you want to see when you're bringing a horse back to the fitness levels required for raceday.
 
And on that note, Jonny confirmed that we'll set our sights on Rangiora on Sunday-week (April 23).
 
He's confident of keeping Sax up to the mark at home without having to head off the place again before then, but added that our boy could possibly step out somewhere next Tuesday or Wednesday for "a quiet run in behind them" if need be.
 
 
(April 10)
 
As scheduled, Franco Saxon is having another 'off the place' outing this week and will line up at the Ashburton Workouts tomorrow.

He's in the last Heat of the day, a 2400m standing start event where he'll go from the front tape against four others at 2:30pm.
 
Jonny Cox wants Sax to have a decent hitout tomorrow. With very few opposition, one thing he'll be keeping an eye on is the tempo.
 
"Hopefully one of them will bowl along at a good clip - otherwise I might have to put him up near the lead myself," Jonny said this evening.
 
Sax has definitely "tightened up" since his Motukarara run and Jonny says he's been happy in his work of late.
 
He was toying with the idea of starting our pacer somewhere this weekend, but the limited options were only the Premier Meeting at Addington on Saturday and a standing start junior drivers' event on the grass at Motukarara two days later.

"He's sort of 'fresh up' again, having last raced at Forbury more than a month ago, so a tough run in a quick time at Addington wouldn't be ideal; it would've been okay if he'd had a couple of races lately," Jonny said.

"And I don't really want to put him in a junior drivers' event if it's a stand. He's still not rock-solid from a stand yet because he's only ever had one on racenight, so if he has to line up in one then I'd rather it be when I can drive him myself.
 
"Next week, there's Forbury on the Thursday and Rangiora on Sunday; we'll target the latter because it's a bit more closer to home for the majority of Syndicate Members."
 
So, circle April 23 on your calendar and write 'Sax at Rangiora' alongside it. There's a $9000 'Up to R58' 2600m mobile on the day which should be right up our boy's alley.
 
Jonny will deduce how Sax comes through tomorrow's workout before deciding if he needs another outing before resuming 12 days later - and if so, it'll be little more than just "a bowl around in behind them" at the trials somewhere midweek.
 
I can't make it down to Ashburton tomorrow, but will let you all know how Sax performs as soon as I've had a chance to catch up with his trainer/driver.

 

Next starts for our horses:
  • Franco Saxon:
    Rangiora Workouts on Wednesday, October 25
    -
Franco Saxon
Franco Saxon's career to date:
Starts: 24
Wins: 2
Placings: 3
Stakes: $14,967
Click here to be linked with Franco Saxon's details on the HRNZ website

 

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